Address to Grand Opening of Cornell Organic Farm

May 2, 2002

By Elizabeth Henderson

I appreciate the chance to be here today (I would be less than honest if I did not add that my first choice would be to spend the day spading ground for our summer crops). On behalf of the organic community I would like to express our appreciation of this occasion: the inauguration of an organic research farm by Cornell. We have waited for this moment for a long time.

Ever since I returned to NY in 1988, NOFA has been asking Cornell to allocate some of its farmland to research in organic agriculture that would benefit organic farmers and other farmers as well. I do not want to talk about the resentments we have felt towards Cornell for neglecting what we think is an incredibly important direction, not just for us as organic farmers, but for all human society. And I do not want to talk about our anger and apprehension that Cornell has helped push farmers out of business by advocating the ?get bigger or get out? approach and currying support from the so called life sciences multinationals. Our work as farmers might have been easier with some researchers working alongside us, investigating the questions that we unearth every day - the simple ones - why do flea beetles plague our early season brassicas and eggplants? How can we reduce the pressure on our cucurbits from cucumber beetles and squash bugs? ? And the more difficult ones. What are the optimal rotations for maximal yield and crop quality? How do we create healthy farming systems in which we do not have to kill anything? How can we and other farmers make a decent living for our families with money to pay enough farm workers so that the work that we love does not become hateful from the pressures of overwork and underpay?

You are setting out here at this new farm to do research on organic production, with a ?focus on soil processes, crops rotations and crops using organic techniques, and the influence on pests and beneficial organisms.? I am sure you are aware that using organic techniques does not mean simply substituting organic inputs for conventional ones. The most basic organic technique is to observe your farm: what are the complex interrelationships among crops, soils, and wildlife. As organic farmers, we take this circle wider - we observe the relationships between our farms and the surrounding community, between our region and the rest of the earth. We try to intervene in ways that facilitate the healthiest and most cooperative interactions. When a plant or animal becomes sick, we don?t grab for the sprayer or medication, we reflect on what might have caused that illness - is the balance of minerals in the soils out of whack, is there too much, too little, the wrong kind of protein in the feed. When we have trouble getting an adequate price for our crops in the supermarkets, we don?t run to the government for subsidies, we work with the people who care about creating healthy food to build alternative economic structures - cooperatives, and Community Supported Agriculture. Our farms are our research stations where we try out new ideas every single growing season, and we are pleased to have this research station as well where organic farmers and people with more training in the scientific disciplines can work together.

Organic agriculture is not just a method of production - it is an attitude and an approach towards the world. Organic farming has developed in this country without the benefit of university support, government subsidies or corporate influence. Those of us who are farming are not growing wealthy, but we enjoy freedom in the truest sense of that word. We have a vision for Cornell, New York?s Land Grant. Cornell could become a leading force in making NYS a model of community food security and grassroots democracy, a state where no one suffers from malnutrition, where families want to raise their children, and those children want to stay because there is a stimulating culture and satisfying employment for everyone, where people from diverse backgrounds live together enlivened by that diversity. We welcome you to join us in this work in the same spirit!